Oct 29, 2021

Mixtape: Jack and Bing

In 1946 Bing Crosby was the king of media. He was the movie star, the pop star and his radio show was reaching a third of American living rooms each week.  But then, it all started to fall apart. His ratings were plummeting and his fans were fleeing. Bing however, was not going down without a fight. 

Today, the story of how Bing Crosby and some stolen Nazi technology won his audience back, changed media forever and accidentally broke reality along the way. 

Mixtape is reported, produced, scored and sound designed by Simon Adler with original music throughout by Simon Adler. Invaluable reporting and production assistance was provided by Eli Cohen.

Special thanks to: Michele Hilmes, Pete Hammer, Rich Flores, Mara Mills, Jonathan Sterne, Claudia Mewes. Though their voices weren’t in the piece, input certainly was.

And to Mary Crosby and Robert Bader, for opening up Bing’s archive for us, and enabling us to fill this episode with so much of Bing’s music.


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 [RADIOLAB INTRO]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: On this instructional tape, you’ll find important and valuable information about…]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: [singing] Your voice. And individual singing style.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: We’ve prepared this instructional tape so that you will be able to…

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Edit, edit, edit yourself.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP:  And therefore, sing with a more authentic voice.]

SIMON: I'm Simon Adler. This is Mixtape, a mini-series about how the cassette tape changed the world.

[MUSIC IN]

SIMON: Gotta admit growing up, cassettes weren't a huge part of my family's life. But…

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Simon Adler home movie: Everybody get off.]

SIMON: My family did have a giant VHS camcorder. Massive.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Simon Adler home movie: Here we are having a quiet afternoon.]

SIMON: My mom carried it around everywhere.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Simon Adler home movie: Mama, know what?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Simon Adler home movie: What?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Simon Adler home movie: We're coloring.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Simon Adler home movie: What kind of color book are we coloring in?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Simon Adler home movie: the Poop Bear.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Simon Adler home movie: Winnie the Poop Bear. Can you look at the camera?]

SIMON: So we ended up with a pile of tapes.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Simon Adler home movie: Tell the camera how old you are.]

SIMON: And years later, she asked me to digitize those tapes, and I decided to make sort of like a one-hour highlight reel of our family. And I remember there was this moment where the weight of that hit me. Like, huh. Like, what do I put on this? Like, which vacations? There’s my family’s road trip down to Alabama which has my brother coming of age, so it would be good to get him in there. But I don't know. Telemark, Wisconsin in 1991 just captures a more vibrant version of my parents. Speaking of my parents, like my mom did all the filming, so how was I gonna get her in front of the camera? And like my dad, he got sicker over the years. Do I, do show his body changing or just kind of skip over that? 

[MUSIC IN]

SIMON: These aren't earth-shattering questions. Very ordinary, actually. But it just made me think a lot about, like, what version of the past is true? Because I knew that no one was gonna go back and watch the original raw tapes, so any choice that I made on the highlight reel, that was just going to become the de facto version of my family's history, which gave me pause.

[MUSIC OUT]

SIMON: Okay, so why am I telling you this? Well, it turns out that this trap I'd found myself in— that we're all living in all the time I would argue—it was created unintentionally by one man. A man who, oddly enough, you can hear singing in the background of many of my family movies. 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Simon Adler home movie: [singing] Jingle bells. Jingle all the way.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Simon Adler home movie: Excuse me, Tim.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Simon Adler home movie: I think I had a green—no, honey don't ...]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Simon Adler home movie: Hi, Simon.]

SIMON: That song in the background.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] What fun to ride and sing in a one-horse open sleigh.]

SIMON: That guy right there.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.]

SIMON: Mr. Bing Crosby.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Oh, bring us some figgy pudding, oh bring us some figgy pudding.]

SIMON: The voice of Christmas.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Oh bring us some figgy pudding, and bring it out here.]

SIMON: Now I like Bing Crosby, but whether you do or don't, we are all living in his world, the world that he created with a magical device and America's worst enemy.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Hitler: [speaking in German]]

SIMON: But just for context, in case you don’t know who Bing Crosby is ...

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] One, two…]

MARK CLARK: I mean, it's very hard to think of a bigger star.

[ARCHIVE CLIP: [singing] Collegiate, collegiate. Yes, we are!]

SIMON: This is historian Mark Clark.

MARK CLARK: And think Michael Jackson plus George Clooney.

[ARCHIVE CLIP: If you've never heard of Bing Crosby, you've probably had your head in a barrel for the last 25 years.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] On the road…]

ROBERT BADER: Imagine one guy being the best-selling recording artist …

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] The enchantment of Paris…]

ROBERT BADER: The number one movie star ...

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Bing Crosby premiers Here Comes the Groom.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Me starring in a picture with ...]

ROBERT BADER: And the highest-rated show on radio.

SIMON: And this is archivist Robert Bader.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Wonderful…]

ROBERT BADER: There is nobody who could compare today.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Marvelous…]

SIMON: I mean, according to one source, in 1948 if you turned on the radio, there was a 50 percent chance you'd hear Bing.

ROBERT BADER: It's amazing!

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Vaya con Dios…]

SIMON: Half the songs on the radio were him.

ROBERT BADER: So, who is the king of all media? It's Bing Crosby.

[MUSIC OUT]

SIMON: So that's the backdrop. Our specific story begins with his weekly radio show.

[ARCHIVE CLIP: The Kraft Music Hall, with Bing Crosby, John Scott Trotter and his Orchestra, Marilyn Maxwell, the Music Maidens ...]

SIMON: The Kraft Music Hall.

[ARCHIVE CLIP: And here's Bing Crosby.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Imagine you, imagining the two who love me. And starting on the family tree.]

SIMON: Okay. And Kraft Music Show, is that the same Kraft as Kraft macaroni and cheese?

MARK CLARK: That's right.

SIMON: [laughs] Okay.

SIMON: Kraft sponsored the whole thing.

MARK CLARK: And so here's the—and so this is a live show.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] All through the day ...]

MARK CLARK: He sings, he interacts with people.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] You know, when we stop to think that in every corner of …]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Lou Costello: Goodbye, goodbye...]

SIMON: They would do comedy skits.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Lou Costello: Goodbye!]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: Goodbye.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Lou Costello: No, I'm not leaving. I'm just saying goodbye to a relative. Goodbye!]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: Hey wait, wait. Do you have to holler like that?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Lou Costello: Oh, yeah. He's a distant relative. Goodbye!]

SIMON: Long story short, this was a massively popular show.

ROBERT BADER: Fifty million people a week we're tuning into the Kraft Music Hall. Fifty million people in the '30s and '40s is a stunning, stunning percentage of the population.

SIMON: More than a third of America.

ROBERT BADER: It's—it's just a crazy number to think about.

SIMON: But here was the big problem: while the audience was happy, and NBC, who was broadcasting his show, was definitely happy. Bing was not.

[MUSIC IN]

ROBERT BADER: His whole life was just wrapped around always working.

SIMON: He had to perform two live radio shows a week, act in all these movies ...

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Take two.]

ROBERT BADER: And on top of that, he's also got other stuff going on.

SIMON: Like a family.

[MUSIC OUT]

MARY CROSBY: Hang on. Check if you want to switch to a different microphone. I do.

SIMON: Okay, click that.

MARY CROSBY: Okay I'm clicking it.

SIMON: Okay, can you hear us?

MARY CROSBY: Can I what?

SIMON: You can hear us?

MARY CROSBY: Oh, I now hear you. Ah!

SIMON: This is Mary Crosby, who is a celebrity in her own right. But for the purpose of this story is Bing's daughter from his second marriage.

MARY CROSBY: Okay.

SIMON: How old was your—was your dad when you were born?

MARY CROSBY: I think he was like, 54.

SIMON: Long after the Kraft Music Hall.

 

MARY CROSBY: Yeah. And he was semi-retired when we came along. So I was fortunate enough to actually have him be just Dad. He taught me how to hunt and fish and play baseball and ride horses. And he used to sing little songs. He would take songs and then make—rewrite lyrics to them. 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Down in the lob-lolly, man it’s sure golly ...]

MARY CROSBY: And then sing them at the dining room table. 

SIMON: Like this never before released parody about a bird hunt he went on. 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Bubba, beg your partner cus we didn’t get our limit, but who gives a damn…]

MARY CROSBY: So we were a very connected family. It wasn't big Hollywood parties and none of that.

When those pointers get the sent, then you’re in the main event! Shooting quail in Sedgefield, Alabama! Yes, man.]

SIMON: But back when he was doing the Kraft show ...

MARY CROSBY: What I know about his first family is that they had a very different life because he was working non-stop.

ROBERT BADER: So he wanted to scale that back, and he wanted to try and be better for his kids, for his personal life.

SIMON: And so he decided the simplest and easiest way to do that was just pre-record the Kraft Radio Show. That way he’d only have to perform it once, not twice, once for each coast. And because it wouldn’t be live the pressure would be way down. 

ROBERT BADER: Something like that.

SIMON: Got it. Okay and like, Bing walks into, I don't know, the corner office in LA where the head of NBC Studios is and says, "Dude, I need to be able to record this." What does the NBC exec say back to him?

ROBERT BADER: Well, if you want to know the truth, then it's much less dramatic. Bing didn't go have that conversation, he sent his lawyer. [laughs]

SIMON: Fair enough. What did they say back to the suit representing Bing?

[MUSIC IN]

ROBERT BADER: They all look at him like he's crazy. You can't not go on the radio live. You're Bing Crosby. You have to be there live.

SIMON: At this point, pretty much all radio was live. Almost nobody pre-taped. Or I should say, pre-recorded to vinyl or shellac records.

MARK CLARK: Remember, this was back in the days of 78 RPM.

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Now what'll we give the folks first?]

MARK CLARK: And so, the sound quality was not as good as a live performance.

[ARCHIVE CLIP: [singing] Oh, listen to the tale of the stalwart male who lost his well-known nanny.]

SIMON: I mean, here's a recording on a 16-inch transcription disc, the type they would have been using at the time.

[ARCHIVE CLIP: [singing] [inaudible] So much that his handicap stayed at 30.]

MARK CLARK: You would hear clicks and pops.

SIMON: And now here ...

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] The same when she starts on her travels. Lazily flows from her...

SIMON: Is what Bing would have sounded like live.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Slowly her length she unravels…]

SIMON: I mean, it's just better. It sounds like Bing is right in front of you.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Deep in the country she’ll tarry, not knowing which way to go…]

MARK CLARK: Whispering sweet nothings into your ear.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Til the enchantment of Paris…]

SIMON: And so NBC was freaked out.

ROBERT BADER: It was this fear that if they record these shows, nobody would listen.

MARK CLARK: And so the network simply said—NBC simply says, "No, we're not going to do that."

[MUSIC IN]

MARY CROSBY: So Kraft said no and Dad was totally frustrated. He walked out of the NBC show over the recording dispute.

SIMON: Took his talent and relocated to this small, scrappy media start-up, ABC.

ROBERT BADER: ABC was perfectly happy to have Bing Crosby pre-recorded. They were just perfectly happy to get any stars on that network at that time.

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Well, Bing, here we are on a brand-new program with Philco. What kind of show are we going to have?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: Well, I figure on something effervescent, charming, gay, carefree, bright, sparkling, scintillating, ebullient.]

SIMON: It was the exact same show.

[ARCHIVE CLIP: No dull spots, then?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: Well, there may be a lull tonight. Bob Hope's coming over a little later ...]

SIMON: Only difference was, it was pre-recorded. But when it aired ...

MARK CLARK: The ratings are considerably less and they go down during the season. And interviewing people, the sort of Nielsen ratings at the time said, you know, the sound …

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Who's your guest next week?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: Next week, Peggy? Robert Taylor ...]

MARK CLARK: Just doesn't—he just doesn't sound as good.

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Say, I may come back myself.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: You're always welcome, Peg. Good night, folks, and thanks very much.]

SIMON: He sounded far away.

MARK CLARK: This was a problem.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] After you’ve gone and left me crying…]

SIMON: And this could have been the beginning of the end.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] After you go, there’s no denying…]

SIMON: But then, Bing gets a lucky break courtesy of ...

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Adolf Hitler: [speaking German]]

SIMON: America's greatest enemy.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Adolf Hitler: [speaking German]]

SIMON: And ...

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: Right.]

SIMON: One of its greatest audio engineers.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: Working late at night, we used to listen to the radio.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: This is BBC One.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: The BBC…]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: The next program now on BBC Two is The Virginians.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: Was my favorite program.]

SIMON: This is Jack Mullin. He was an audio engineer. And this is him speaking to a room full of audio engineers back in the 1980s.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: I was still active in the signal corps. And ...]

SIMON: In 1943, as he explained to the room ...

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: An FM communications set ...]

SIMON: During World War II, he was stationed in the UK working for the signal corps.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: Well, we found that the receivers were interfered with very greatly by radar.]

SIMON: Doing some kind of technical work involving radio transmissions.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: And ...]

SIMON: One day he's soldering some cables or something and he's listening to the radio.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: I always liked classical music. And that went off air earlier than the others, actually.]

MARK CLARK: The thing was is that ...

[ARCHIVE CLIP: The time now, midnight.]

MARK CLARK: The BBC went off the air ...

[ARCHIVE CLIP: We'll be with you again in the morning.]

MARK CLARK: At midnight. And—and he and his colleagues, they wanted to continue to listen, and so what he would do is he would tune through the dial.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: We would fish around and we generally landed on Germany because they were putting out good, strong signal and ...]

SIMON: Lots of classical music.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: Big orchestras playing and the music would go on all night long.]

SIMON: And he says he was always amazed at just how clear the sound was.

MARK CLARK: This was a real puzzle.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: These programs from Germany sounded amazing.]

SIMON: They sounded live.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: You wondered if they weren't just using live orchestras and Hitler said, "Okay, you will play all night," you know? So that's—that was what it was. [laughter] But we found out later, of course, what it was.]

[MUSIC IN]

SIMON: Fast forward two years, the Allies are slowly marching across Europe and Jack is there with them. When they took a new town, he’d sweep in and collect whatever machinery or devices the Nazis had left behind.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: Our function was to study this stuff and to write reports on it.]

SIMON: And one day, just outside of Frankfurt, Jack bumps into this British officer who's all excited about this tape recorder he's just seen.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: This man had been down to the Radio Frankfurt operation and he said he had seen this machine down there that used this tape and it sounded great. Well, I thought he must have had a tin ear. [laughter]]

SIMON: Because again Jack was an engineer. He knew that tape recorders sounded terrible.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: And so I didn't think much of it.]

SIMON: Says, "Cheerio," hops in his Jeep.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: And as we left the top of the hill and came down the mountain, course I had every intention of just going back—back home, because it was late in the afternoon. But …]

SIMON: Those late-night German radio broadcasts were ringing in his ears.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: So we went.]

MARK CLARK: So he ends up at this improvised radio studio.

SIMON: Just a house, really.

MARK CLARK: So he comes into this living room.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: I asked officer in charge if I could hear this machine that they had that used tape. And he says, "All right. Yeah, sure. Okay."]

SIMON: And he shows Jack this—this big tape player. It was called a magnetophonon. And it looked like one of those reel-to-reel tape machines you see in studios sometimes. Didn't look that different from other tape recorders he'd seen.

[MUSIC OUT] 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: The guy went out in the back room and got a roll of tape and brought it in, put it on the machine. Turned it on. And—and I—that's when I flipped.]

[MUSIC IN]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: Never ever had I heard anything like that.]

MARK CLARK: He is utterly amazed at the quality of what he's hearing. He literally cannot distinguish it from a live performance.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: There was something very magical about them.]

SIMON: And when the war finally ended...

ROBERT BADER: He managed to get back to the United States with two of these machines.

SIMON: Again, Robert Bader.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: This pair of two machines as a souvenir of war.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: How did you manage to keep them?[laughter]]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: Well, they were laying around in the lab, sending some samples.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Nobody asked for them?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: We can stop the tape.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: No, nobody was that interested in them. [laughter]]

ROBERT BADER: And about 50 pieces of tape.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: 50 of these rolls. That was my supply of tape.]

SIMON: Now as for what made the magnetophone so good sounding, it's a little bit technical, but basically what the Nazi engineers had done was taken all the different advances in recording technology from around the world, and put them into one box. For example, they—they had something called AC bias, where you insert super-high frequencies into recordings to smooth out the sound. They had these reliable motors for the reels which produced a more consistent sound. And Jack wanted to understand all this stuff.

ROBERT BADER: So Mullin comes to Hollywood and he wants to get some research and development funds and really work this thing out. So the first place he went was the movie studios and he did some demos.

SIMON: October of 1946, he gets a bunch of Hollywood execs into an auditorium. And there on stage is the MGM Symphony Orchestra and Jack along with his magnetophone.

[MUSIC IN]

SIMON: The orchestra starts to play. Jack records them as they're playing on his magnetophone. And then—foom!—drops the curtain. So now the execs can't see what's happening on stage.

ROBERT BADER: The music stops.

[MUSIC OUT]

SIMON: From behind the curtain, the execs hear Jack or someone say to the orchestra...

ROBERT BADER: "Okay, boys. That’s fine. Let's do another take. One, two, three, four." They start playing again.

[MUSIC IN]

ROBERT BADER: And this time in the middle of them playing, they raised the curtain...

SIMON: And it's not the musicians playing.

ROBERT BADER: No. The musicians were all walking around, smoking cigarettes and shaking hands and talking to each other while the magnetophone is playing back what they had just recorded.

SIMON: And everyone’s jaw hits the floor.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: That was the night when it hit.]

ROBERT BADER: Bing's radio producer witnessed that demo and said, "I gotta bring you to meet my boss because he's gonna want to be in on this." And that is how Jack Mullin met Bing Crosby.]

MARY CROSBY: Dad was given a demonstration and he immediately saw the huge potential of these new machines.

ROBERT BADER: Bing famously said, "What do you need to make this thing work?" Jack says, "$50,000." And, you know, I'm doing the movie version of this and Bing turns to some guy and says, "Hey, write him a check," you know? But basically that's what happened.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] We're in the money, we're in the money...]

SIMON: So Bing started recording the Philco Radio Time with Jack ...

ROBERT BADER: On the two magnetophone machines that he had using this stack of tapes he brought back from Germany.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: Yeah, this is all these 50 rolls that I brought back.]

ROBERT BADER: So they just got rolling right off the bat.

SIMON: And season two, the ratings shoot back up. Bing was back. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

[MUSIC IN]

MARY CROSBY: Yeah, it just—like, the whole world changed.

SIMON: I mean, you could point to this moment, this collaboration between Jack and Bing and the Nazis, as the beginning of modern media making. As well as, I don’t know, the turning upside down of what is real. Which for a moment at least, would send Jack and Bing in very different directions. That's after the break.

[ARCHIVE CLIP: [singing] Collegiate, collegiate. Yes, we are!]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: [singing] Collegiate, nothing intermediate.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] No man…]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Webcor stereophonic sound. Wonderful reality. Now that you’ve reached the end of the reel, just turn it over. You have another complete recording. 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Things we never were and were having any use for red hot flannels…]

ROMEO: This is Romeo from Ypsilanti, Michigan. Mixtape, a special series from Radiolab, is supported in part by Science Sandbox, a Simons Foundation initiative. The Shanahan Charitable Family Foundation. And the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. 

[ARCHIVE CLIP: [applause]]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Hello, before we continue, let’s just consider home movie editing…]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Cheese! ]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Cheese!]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: No, Elliot.] 

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Similar to cutting tape.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Where the blue…]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: To produce better sound programs.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: Meets the gall…]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Bing Crosby!]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: You can use a cut in shot to guide the viewer to the relevant feeling you wish to emphasize. For example.... ]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Stand by the thing, El. ]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: You’re not going to be in the pictures. Hey stop it!]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Oh.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Does daddy have the camera?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Sure! [laughter]]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Oh I know. Okay, guys! Elliot, please.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Cheese.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Perfect.]

SIMON: I'm Simon Adler. This is Mixtape. Okay, the magnetophone, this device, allows Bing Crosby to pre-record his show in such high quality that when he broadcasts it out to millions of Americans ...

MARK CLARK: It'll sound just like it's live.

SIMON: But that sleight of hand, according to historian Mark Clark there, was only the beginning of what this tape made possible.

MARK CLARK: Because you can edit it. and so suddenly now, you don't have to be so constrained.

SIMON: Wait, so they—so was there no editing before the magnetophone?

MARK CLARK: Film, of course, does this long before, right. This whole notion of editing and cuts and so forth, that all pioneered well before this in film. But what’s new is that you can do it with sound and not just images. 

SIMON: Which is a deceptively huge shift. Whereas with film you can literally see the jump cuts happening in front of your eyes, with audio that was all invisible. 

MARK CLARK: You can cut those pieces of tape and splice them together…

SIMON: Anyway you want. And no one was the wiser.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: Here's a very nice ballad written by two of the best writers in the biz..]

SIMON: And Bing Crosby started taking advantage of this. This is some raw tape from his family archive that I don’t think has been ever publicly played before.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Heart and soul. I fell in love with you heart and soul. The way a fool would do madly because you held me tight and stole a kiss in the night.]

MARK CLARK: He would do a rehearsal run through. And then he would then do another performance and both of those were recorded.

SIMON: And so if something like this happened ...

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Look at me. Wait a minute. Time. Wrong words. Go back a little, John. [laughter] I lost the place here.]

SIMON: It was no big deal.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: I got carried away listening to my own voice. [laughter] Ah! Ahem. [applause]]

SIMON: They'd grab the take of this song from the rehearsal and splicer it onto that authentic feeling introduction we just heard. 

MARK CLARK: They were able to combine that. And so you could make the best possible show out of two different shows.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: What’s the schedule now?]

SIMON: But ultimately, Bing wanted even more flexibility.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Ba-ba-ba-da-bee-da-da…]

[ARCHIVE CLIP: Are you rolling that?

SIMON: And so before long…

ROBERT BADER: They hardly ever did it in front of a live audience.

SIMON: I mean, listening to it, you'd swear there's an audience there.

ROBERT BADER: But believe me, it's a fake live show. They were just really, really good at making them.

SIMON: Almost always, the audience was spliced in later, which made for some awkward moments. 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: Oh thanks for the memories…]

SIMON: Like in this New York show broadcast in June of 1948.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Fred Allen: Well good evening, Bing.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: Good evening, Fred.]

SIMON: Where Bing has a comedian on, Fred Allen.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Fred Allen: Say, that applause there, that applause had a lot of life to it. Did you sense it as I walked on? The electric quality? Did you—did you have it transcribed out in sunny California for release here in the gloom of West 48th Street? [laughter]]

SIMON: I mean, Fred Allen is trying to make a joke about how there isn't actually an audience there, and Bing sort of bats it down.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: No, Fred, that applause came from those lovely people sitting out there in the audience.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Fred Allen: Really? [laughter]]

SIMON: I mean, there was no audience. And yet you hear an audience that isn't there laughing at a joke about an audience that isn't there. I mean, to be fair, while they were recording there might have been a few people standing around so there might have been a tiny audience. But that’s kind of the point. That then, as well as now some 70 years later, there’s no way to know what was actually happening.

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC IN]

MARK CLARK: That’s right. It can create essentially a lie.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] All those ... all those things. All those things I've ever. All the—what the hell are you playing? That ain't the melody. All those—all those things you’ve ever pined for, gee I’ve...All those things you’ve always pined for, gee I’d like to see you looking swell. Baby...]

MARY CROSBY: I think he didn't see a conflict between live and on tape in terms of authenticity.

SIMON: Again, Mary Crosby.

MARY CROSBY: In terms of him making jokes, he only saw the freedom and the reach and the possibilities.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: That’s the last note, isn’t it?

[MUSIC OUT]

SIMON: Now, I can’t really hold this against Bing. Here at Radiolab, we do stuff like this all the time. But Jack Mullin…

[PHONE RINGING]

SIMON: In at least, one moment, felt differently.

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: Good morning. This is Eve.

SIMON: Hi, Eve. Simon here from Radiolab.

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: Hey, Simon. How are you?

SIMON: I'm okay. How are you doing?

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: I'm doing fine, thanks.

SIMON: So this is Eve Mullin-Collier.

SIMON: And you are, among many things, the daughter of …

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: I am—Yeah, of Jack Mullin. Yeah. I'm sitting in one of his chairs and I just said a little Hail Mary to call me, which is something he would have done.

SIMON: According to Eve, the appeal of the magnetophone to Jack wasn't really about the flexibility but how it could capture the sounds of real life. She says, her dad was always really obsessed with recording things.

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: You know, as a elementary school kid, he made his own records. You could buy blanks, apparently, at the store, and record your own disks. And he was super interested in photography. He started producing documentaries on film.

[MUSIC IN]

SIMON: Like this travelogue from 1928.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: Returning one of California’s lesser traveled routes through the Sierras. Crossing the San Joaquin Valley…]

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: Accompanied by records for sound, which included himself narrating. 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: One of the most impressive sights is Cathedral Peak, towering above Lake Tenaya. 

SIMON: This is some super early documentary footage. You see the Bay Bridge being built. 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: Over a relatively difficult course, the altitude has gained quite rapidly…]

SIMON: Yellowstone when it only had a dirt road. And talking with Eve and watching some of these clips, the sense I came away with was that he was trying to capture something real and true. Like what it was actually like to walk through a bombed-out city. Or stand on the bank of a mountain lake. 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: Gray granite, blue sky, green trees, emerald water.]

SIMON: And that the magnetophone to himwell, it could reproduce real life better than anything.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: This is the machine I brought back from Germany. But this back here, the electronics, is made up of American components. But...]

SIMON: It was authenticity through the fidelity of the recording.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin: Oh, here’s the threader. Ha! Here's the machine, and I'm gonna play it now. [playing music] They were, in fact, the only sound recorders in the whole United States that performed with such fidelity. There wasn't anything that sounded as good as my two little German machines.]

SIMON: And according to Eve, he loved that machine.

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: It was on multiple times a week, he was playing something on that particular machine.

SIMON: And at a certain point, working with Bing Crosby, he became uncomfortable with how his machines were being used.

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: I remember him telling me about when this was all really new.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: There was a comedian that came on the show and told a joke and the crowd just cracked up. They just laughed their heads off. But they couldn't play that joke on the air.

SIMON: The joke was a little too blue.

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: But the producer came in and said, "I want that laugh. Save that laugh. That was a great uproarious laugh."

SIMON: Pretty soon, the producer was asking Jack to keep a whole library of laughs …

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: Like 12 laughs. You know, one through twelve.

SIMON: That they could use wherever they wanted.

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: They would think, "Oh, that's good for a laugh number three."

SIMON: This all came to a head in 1947.

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: I kind of—I sort of hesitate to mention this one. But one day…

SIMON: She says Jack was there recording the show. A comedian comes in and tells a joke that’s just not funny.

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: And the producer came in and said, "Hey, I want you to use laugh number three after this joke." And it didn't warrant—he thought the joke didn't warrant that boisterous of a laugh. He thought that that was wrong. That was the wrong thing.

SIMON: She says she's not exactly sure why that particular moment stopped him in his tracks, but maybe it was a question of degrees. I mean, it's one thing to take a chuckle and turn it into a belly laugh. But to completely invent a laugh when there was no laugh before?

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: You know, it was leading the audience and it wasn't honest. He was big on—you know, he had high regard for purity and authenticity in sound, of course, but in joy.

[MUSIC IN]

SIMON: She says as an example…

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin home movie: There’s John and Eve having fun, at least, with a little sled…]

SIMON: He wouldn't touch the family movies that he’d shot of her and her siblings. 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin home movie: There’s Eve making angels.]

SIMON: Those were off limits.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin home movie: There you go!]

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: Yeah, those were all just raw. All the home movies were just raw things.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin home movie: John has never been on skates before.] 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin home movie: Old time Swedish lady…]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin home movie: There’s always some project on. Yep.]

SIMON: It's interesting to me that you're—that the family footage that your dad took, he never edited.

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: I don't know. I think it was important to him and to us. He did, you know, oh, once a month or so, he'd pull them out and we'd watch, like, when we were babies.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin home movie: Happy Mama.]

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: And he'd tell stories. That's how he grew up. Everybody sat on the front porch telling stories. 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin home movie: There we are.]

EVE MULLIN-COLLIER: That still is kind of what spoke to his heart.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jack Mullin home movie: So, it was in the days when…]

SIMON: And so in that moment when the producer told him to put in that laugh, Eve says, Jack would have pushed back. And said, “No.” And while yes, this moment’s small, it was the start of something massive…

[NEWS CLIP: Some distorted videos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on social media ...]

[NEWS CLIP: Super realistic videos that use artificial intelligence ...]

SIMON: This pseudo-reality we inhabit today. 

[NEWS CLIP: Now we have fake voices.]

[NEWS CLIP: I'm having a very lovely pregnancy so far.]

SIMON: I mean, every time we pull up Facebook or Instagram to post something, we find ourselves torn between, I guess you could say, Jack and Bing. You know, between wanting something real and true. And then on the other hand wanting the freedom, the flexibility to edit ourselves into whatever version we want. And what we often end up with is this cut off, over dubbed mixtape of an identity, where even we forget where the manipulation ends and the real begins.

[ARCHIVE CLIP: [laughter]]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bing Crosby: [singing] Where the blue of the night meets the…]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, home video: Oh, good job. Here you go...Okay, bye bye!]

SIMON: Next week…

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: I remember him like, exclaiming—being super excited about cassette tapes. 

SIMON: Oh really?

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: And thinking oh my gosh, this is like the perfection of all of this.

SIMON: We fast forward to the cassette, with the story of what happens when this identity manipulation gets weaponized. 

[MUSIC OUT]

[MUSIC IN]

SIMON: Mixtape is reported, produced, scored and sound designed by me, Simon Adler, with original music throughout by me. Incalculable reporting and production assistance was provided by Eli Cohen. I’d like to give special thanks to Michelle Helms, Pete Hammer, Rich Flores, Mara Mills, Jonathan Stern and Claudia Muse. Though their voices weren’t in this piece their input certainly was. And to Mary Crosby and Robert Bader for opening up Bing’s archive for us. And enabling us to fill this episode with so much of Bing’s music. I’m Simon Adler and we’ll have another tape for you, next week. 

LISTENER: Radiolab was created by Jad Abumrad and is edited by Soren Wheeler. Lulu Miller and Latif Nasser are our co-hosts. Suzie Lechtenberg is our executive producer, and Dylan Keefe is our director of sound design. Our staff includes: Simon Adler, Jeremy Bloom, Becca Bressler, Rachael Cusick, W. Harry Fortuna, David Gebel, Maria Paz Gutiérrez, Sindhu Gnanasambandan, Matt Kielty, Annie McEwen, Alex Neason, Sarah Qari, Arianne Wack, Pat Walters and Molly Webster. With help from Tanya Chawla, Shima Oliaee, and Sarah Sandbach. Our fact-checkers are Diane Kelly, Emily Krieger, and Adam Przybyl.

 

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